Another tragic death of an African-American man and the usual suspects weigh in to distort the truth.
Politicians, CNN reporters / contributors and mainstream media doing their utmost to write another false narrative to inflame and divide.
Eric Garner (43) died on July 17, 2014 after police attempted to arrest him for participating in the illegal sale of untaxed cigarettes.
It seems police were responding to local business complaints that Garner’s illegal sales were negatively impacting their business. In fact, some reports indicate he was a player in an organized crime cigarette smuggling syndicate.
Police investigated and subsequently tried to take him into custody.
Only this time, Garner decided he wasn’t going to play ball, “I’m tired of it, this stops today,” he said before things went horribly wrong.
When it comes to use of force principles, Garner could be best described as offering passive or defensive resistance. He was verbally non-compliant and pulled his hands away as officers tried to place him under arrest.
It’s important to note he was a gigantic man measuring 6’3″ tall and weighing between 350 – 400 pounds.
Four police officers proceeded to go hands on with him in their attempt to take him into custody.
Ironically, the officers employed one of the lowest levels of force options available to apprehend a suspect. In Winnipeg, the level of force is called, “soft empty hand control.”
That means the officers opted for a low level of force option and precluded the use of intermediate weapons like the taser, pepper spray or police baton.
One of the officers, identified as Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a “choke hold” and took him to the ground.
The entire episode was captured on video by a witness using a smart phone.
Garner tragically died as a result of the confrontation.
The medical examiner reported he died as a result of compression to his neck and chest from being placed in the prone position while being physically restrained by police. The ME indicated asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors. The manner of death identified by the ME was homicide.
The case went before a Grand Jury who reviewed the evidence and declined to recommend an indictment. The news sparked outrage and protest.
The False Narrative
As I watched the coverage I was once again struck by the inflammatory, inaccurate, racially divisive commentary coming out of main stream media.
Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay typified the rhetoric in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
“We’ll that’s the thing that really dismays me is that you do have video and audio evidence, and this Grand Jury couldn’t bring themselves, uh, to bring any charges at all on a group of police officers that from the evidence suggests they pretty much jumped on this guy and beat him to death.”
Clay went on to suggest the failure to indict the officer demonstrates, “Some Americans still don’t believe that black lives are worth the same as other Americans lives.”
Clay’s suggestion Garner was beaten to death shocked me and flew directly in the face of video evidence that clearly shows he was taken to the ground with minimal force.
Not a punch, kick, knee, elbow or any other kind of strikes were thrown during the entire episode.
The fact an elected Government official would make such an outrageous claim, though troubling, is typical of the kind of mischaracterization we saw in the Michael Brown case. The #handsupdontshoot scenario was essentially disproved by witness and forensic evidence.
CNN contributor Dr. Sanjay Gupta added to the false narrative by underlining the significance of the Medical Examiners finding of homicide regarding Garner’s manner of death. It was as if he was suggesting the officer was guilty of murder because the ME called the death a homicide.
In reality, the finding of homicide means little. The classification of homicide does not automatically imply criminal culpability.
Medical Examiners have limited options when they classify death. Those classifications must fall into categories of accidental, suicide, natural, undetermined or homicide.
If a suspect shoots at a police officer and is killed with return fire the ME would still classify the suspects death as homicide. The difference is the death would be considered a “justifiable” homicide as is true of most deadly force encounters with police.
The Choke Hold
Media accounts have focused much attention on the “choke hold” used by Officer Pantaleo. Some CNN contributors have created another false narrative by referring to the choke hold as an, “illegal choke hold,” while in truth, no such criminal designation exists for the technique commonly used in mixed martial arts fighting.
I question how much emphasis we should place on the “choke hold” regarding Mr. Garners death. When you watch the video you’ll see the “choke hold” is applied in the standing position and is released once Garner is taken to the ground. In all, the “choke hold” was applied for approximately thirteen (13) seconds.
Once the “choke hold” is released you can clearly hear Mr. Garner repeatedly stress he can’t breathe. It stands to reason he couldn’t talk if he was being choked to death.
When I watch the video, it’s obvious Mr. Garner died as a result of positional asphyxia which may have been exacerbated by factors such as obesity, asthma or strenuous resistance.
A Winnipeg Case
On Feb. 21, 2004, James Hanson (28) was killed by three bouncers at the Beach Nightclub on Pembina Highway after they took him to the ground and restrained him after a number of fights broke out in the parking lot.
Hanson was obese and had “early and abnormal heart disease.” His obesity, level of intoxication and evidence of pressure to his neck were identified as aggravating factors in his death. He essentially died from positional asphyxiation. His manner of death was homicide.
Three bouncers were subsequently charged with manslaughter only to be acquitted at trial by a judge who seemed to agree with the pathologist’s analysis of the case.
In his decision, Justice J. Oliphant wrote:
“Of real importance in the context of this case, Dr. MacDonald opined that Mr. Hanson’s death was more of a tragedy than anything else. Moreover, according to Dr. MacDonald, it is not clear that the people involved should have known they were doing any harm to Mr. Hanson. Dr. MacDonald adopted the defense suggestion that Mr. Hanson’s death was, “almost accidental.”
Is it reasonable to expect the officers involved in Mr. Garner’s death could have anticipated he would die during the arrest? Is there any basis for a rational belief the officer’s intended to cause Mr. Garner’s death?
Much like the Hanson case, it seems the Garner case may be more consistent with an accidental or unintended death.
Degrees of Separation
The people screaming for police accountability simply refuse to connect all the dots in the tragic death of Eric Garner. It’s a chicken or egg kind of conversation that no one seems to want to have.
They want to start the conversation at the “choke hold” and not take it back to the unlawful sale of cigarettes or the resistance to arrest.
In the Michael Brown case, they want to start the conversation with the fatal shot and not take it back to the convenience store robbery or the felony assault on Officer Wilson.
That’s not victim blaming, that’s called seeing things the way they are. It’s called the inconvenient truth.
The Final Analysis
No one should die as a result of selling untaxed cigarettes or stealing a handful of cigarillos.
Police have a responsibility to take a hard look at their policies and procedures when it comes to use of force and must always evolve and improve to meet the needs of a continually changing society.
What can we learn?
Police need to consider more extensive training in the areas of verbal judo and de-escalation when it comes to all use of force encounters. Police must intensify public education regarding use of force and the perils of non-compliance.
The public must respect the role law enforcement plays in the community and needs to recognize the ramifications of lawlessness and non-compliance.
Accountability shouldn’t be a selective principle we solely apply to the men and women of law enforcement.
That’s black and white to me.
Listen to an interview with James Jewell about this case courtesy of The Nighthawk on 680 CJOB: